The Eagles reached a new level of futility in the second half of Thursday's 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals when turnovers came so fast that they could barely execute a play without committing one.
At one point, the Eagles turned the ball over on three consecutive plays and four times in five plays - a feat so laughable that the few fans remaining at Lincoln Financial Field could barely muster the deafening boos they would ordinarily dispense.
A three-point lead turned into a three-touchdown deficit, and another loss appeared inevitable enough that fans could return home before midnight from a game that ended at 11:45.
"It's been the story of the whole year," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "That type of thing going on, where we're not protecting the ball. It always gets you beat no matter where you are, what situation it is."
The loss dropped the Eagles to 4-10, matching the most losses the Eagles have tallied since 2005. There are still two games remaining against NFC East rivals, so what could be the final two games of Andy Reid's career in Philadelphia could also lead to his worst record as an Eagles coach.
"Five turnovers [leading to] 31 points. That says it all," Reid said. "You can't have those turnovers."
It's hard to get more embarrassing than the Eagles' second half. It started when rookie quarterback Nick Foles underthrew a deep pass to Jeremy Maclin that was intercepted by Leon Hall. The Eagles held a 13-10 lead, and the defense was playing its finest game of the season. The interception gave the Bengals life, and quarterback Andy Dalton rushed for an 11-yard score to give Cincinnati a 17-13 lead.
"A bad throw," Foles said. "One I can't have."
Two plays later, fumble-prone running back Bryce Brown could not handle a handoff and coughed up his fourth fumble in four games. This one was recovered by Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry and returned 25 yards for a touchdown.
The Bengals built a 24-13 lead, but that was at least within striking distance. The Eagles offense returned from an 11-point deficit last week, so a rally by Foles could have put the Eagles back in the game.
Instead, on the first offensive play, a 16-yard completion to Clay Harbor was knocked loose and recovered by the Bengals. That was the final play of the third quarter, and the Bengals added a field goal on the resulting drive.
Even a 27-13 deficit with more than 14 minutes remaining would not have required an unreasonable comeback. Except the Eagles could not even field the ensuing kickoff to give the ball to their offense.
The Bengals attempted a short kick, and 309-pound defensive tackle Cedric Thornton tried to catch it. The ball ricocheted off the No. 72 on Thornton's jersey and into grasp of Bengals safety Taylor Mays.
By this point, what was already a small crowd at Lincoln Financial Field had thinned to those who were gluttons for punishment. The Bengals continued to build their lead, and the Eagles watched the clock expire on the game and the season.
Foles finished with 182 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Brown rushed for 34 yards on 16 carries. Maclin was the leading receiver with 73 yards. Brandon Graham finished with 21/2 sacks, while Fletcher Cox had 11/2 sacks. But the number that mattered most was five turnovers.
"There's really not an answer to tell you why [the turnovers] happen," said Maclin, who fumbled on the second play of the game. "Just not careful with the ball. Some of the guys made good plays on the other side. Some of it was us being too lackadaisical with the ball."
The turnovers started on the second play of the game, when Maclin took a screen pass 6 yards before Carlos Dunlap stripped him from behind, and the Bengals recovered. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 29 yards on the ensuing play, which put Cincinnati in range for Green-Ellis' eventual 1-yard score.
The problems continued on the next drive for the Eagles. After a three-and-out, they were late getting their full punt team on the field. The operation never appeared sound, and the Bengals' penetration forced Marvin McNutt so deep into the backfield that Mat McBriar punted off McNutt's rear end. The Bengals scooped the blocked punt and turned the field position into a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Momentum swung in the Eagles' direction in the second quarter when Foles hit Maclin for a 46-yard pass to put the Eagles in the red zone. That's where Riley Cooper hauled in an 11-yard touchdown reception to put the Eagles on the board. The Eagles defense took over from there, forcing two Dalton fumbles to set up two field goals before halftime. The Eagles could not find the end zone on either red-zone attempt, leaving the score 13-10 entering halftime.
That was the score when Foles threw his interception, starting the barrage of turnovers that will come to represent the 2012 Eagles and added another loss to a season that has long been fumbled away.